Faced with climate change, Ethiopia rediscovers an ancient staple crop

Often dubbed the false banana, the giant enset is a staple crop in certain parts of Ethiopia. As climate change brings increasingly frequent droughts, the plant’s versatility and resilience could help fight hunger.

When 52-year-old Gebre Ynitso was a child in Ethiopia, he and his fellow villagers tended a towering plant with broad, lush green leaves. They harvested its roots and leaves for food and collected its fibers to weave into hats, sacks and even mattresses. No part of the plant went to waste.

“I would play hide-and-go seek in the dense enset plantation,” said Ynitso, who also helped his parents transplant the enset, as the eye-catching crop is known. Ynitso also made toys out of its roots.

Endemic to Ethiopia, the plant has been cultivated there for more than 7,000 years. It’s often dubbed the false banana because of its similarity to the banana tree. The enset can withstand droughts as well as heavy rains, making it ideal for cultivation in Ethiopia’s climate.

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